When we talk about polls, it’s always important to remember that each one comes with a natural margin of error. But on Saturday evening, human error may have come into play. At the last minute, The Des Moines Register, CNN and Selzer & Co. announced that they would not release the results of their final poll of Iowa before Monday’s caucuses because of reports that one candidate’s name was omitted in at least one interview.
So what exactly happened? The cancellation appears to be due to a complaint lodged by a senior official for the campaign of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who said he received a call from a supporter who had not heard Buttigieg listed as an option in one of the survey calls. Selzer & Co. — the much-respected pollster behind the survey — and its partners were unable to confirm the extent of the problem, so it’s still unclear if this was an isolated incident.
Given the amount of coverage this poll was going to receive — CNN had planned an hourlong program devoted to its results — its cancellation could be a bummer (or a gift) for some of the candidates. An unexpected result for an underdog candidate or a solid lead for either Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Vice President Joe Biden might have dominated the media narrative heading into Monday. And that coverage could have influenced the attitudes of Iowa voters.
In a cycle where there’s been less polling of the Iowa caucuses than in recent years, it’s unfortunate that we won’t get the last pre-caucus survey from the outfit known as the “gold standard” in Iowa, as it would have helped us get a read on how things moved in the final days before voting began. But we won’t be completely in the dark headed into Monday: CBS News/YouGov and Emerson College have already announced that they’ll be releasing Iowa surveys on Sunday, and it’s possible that another pollster might release new numbers as well. Yet it’s safe to say that this whole episode should reinforce the idea that you should never rely on a single poll to judge a race.